The humanitarian truce in the Gaza Strip lasted almost a week, from November 24 to December 1, during which time hostages and prisoners were exchanged and Hamas appeared to accept Israel’s offer and released hostages at the rate of an additional 10 captives for each day of peace. However, on December 1, the two sides resumed hostilities, with each accusing each other of violating the ceasefire agreement.
The head of Mossad, David Barnea, at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu terminated the negotiations in Qatar and withdrew his colleagues on the ground that the enemy had violated agreements concluded by the two sides. Whether this was actually the case is difficult to say, as both sides make conflicting claims. However, the fact remains that military operations have resumed.
Hamas launched another massive rocket attack on Tel Aviv, exposing vulnerabilities in Israel’s missile defense system. The IDF responded with equally harsh air strikes, and fighting on the ground. Moreover, Israel has ignored all appeals, even from its main allies, including the US, not to extend its hostilities to the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Israel is now shelling all parts of the Gaza Strip, including the southern parts of the enclave and the Egyptian border town of Rafah. The number of Palestinian casualties is rapidly increasing and, as of December 4 this year, was approaching 16,000 (the exact figure was 15,899).
Thus, the Israeli side used the “pause in operations” in the conflict with Hamas to exchange as many hostages as possible and to improve its fighting position. In turn, the Israeli intelligence services, from the first days of the war, set up intelligence groups to gather information on the location of the hostages. According to Anna Ukolova, IDF spokesperson, these groups continued their operations during the humanitarian ceasefire.
The IDF General Staff has announced that Israel will achieve its goals of destroying Hamas in any weather, and Mossad has warned that it will conduct special operations both within Palestine and around the world (primarily in Islamic countries) to eliminate all Hamas leaders. As a rule, the Israeli intelligence service does not make empty threats, and its warnings sooner or later tend to be fulfilled.
However, as we are seeing, Israel is not satisfied with simply conducting an intelligence operation to eliminate Hamas’ political and military leadership. In continuing to wage a large-scale war, it is clearly pursuing other goals, primarily to prevent the establishment of an independent state of Palestine on the 1967 borders, maximize destruction in the Gaza Strip and to intimidate its population, and to occupy the Palestinian enclave.
In this regard, The Wall Street Journal, citing Israeli administrative circles, reports that Mossad is preparing to eliminate leaders of Hamas movement around the world after the end of the war in Gaza, and that plans are now being developed to identify and eliminate Hamas leaders living in Lebanon, Qatar and Turkey.
In response, the Turkish television channel Habertürk, citing intelligence sources, reported that Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency has sternly warned Israel of “serious consequences” if Hamas leaders are pursued inside Turkey. In fact, the Turkish intelligence service has managed to thwart one such operation by Mossad.
They managed to prevent the capture of Omar A., a Palestinian hacker who was able in 2015-2016 to crack the secret codes of Israel’s missile defenses and disable the lauded Iron Dome system, thus enabling Hamas to launch a massive rocket attack on Israel at the start of the present war. In 2020, Omar A. relocated to Turkey, and then in late September 2023, he was detained by Mossad agents in Malaysia. But Turkey’s MIT was promptly informed of this development thanks to its partnership with Malaysia’s intelligence agencies, enabling it to secure his release and arrest 11 Mossad agents based in Kuala Lumpur. Shortly afterwards a Mossad agent was detained in Istanbul. Omar A. is still living under the protection of the Turkish intelligence service and is continuing with his professional activities.
This example may suggest, indirectly, that the Turkish intelligence services were to some extent complicit in the preparation of Hamas’ attack on Israel, because the hacker Omar A. almost certainly was not acting as a “lone wolf” and the entire Turkish intelligence service took responsibility for protecting him. Naturally, the intelligence services may be able to use the technical skills of such a hacker in their future activities.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed his verbal attacks on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him the “butcher of Gaza” and predicting that he would end up “suffering the fate of Slobodan Milosevic” and being tried in The Hague. The Turkish leader considers Gaza to be Palestinian land, and for him defending it is as important as defending Mecca, Medina and Istanbul itself. Erdoğan is also in favor of a ceasefire and the creation of a state of Palestine, with Turkey holding a guarantor mandate. On similar lines, the Turkish leader demands that the IAEA and other international bodies verify whether Israel possesses nuclear weapons, and, if so, prohibit its program.
Tel Aviv’s has rejected Turkey’s proposal for a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital, with Ankara as a guarantor, but so far the Turkish president has not made any new proposals for an effective resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
According to Reuters, at the beginning of December, Israel notified Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey that it plans to establish a “buffer zone” on the border with the Gaza Strip after the end of the war. As Ofir Falk, a foreign policy adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, puts it, “the plan is more detailed than that. It’s based on a three-tier process for the day after Hamas.” The three phases referred to are: 1) the destruction of Hamas, 2) the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, and 3) the deradicalization of the Palestinian enclave. The creation of the buffer zone could be part of the third phase.
Political scientist Tural Kerimov believes, quite rightly, that the latest Palestinian-Israeli conflict forces all interested parties to focus not on its consequences, but on its causes. However, the parties cannot agree on what the new Palestinian state should look like. As yet, there are two clear-cut positions:
1) the Turkish position: an independent Palestine within the 1967 borders, and with East Jerusalem as its capital, with Turkey having an official mandate as guarantor;
(2) the Israeli position: the destruction of Hamas, the demilitarization and deradicalization of the Gaza Strip, and the creation of a “buffer zone.”
As is immediately clear, these are two mutually exclusive plans and approaches. Most external actors have so far only limited themselves to observing the reactions of Israel and the Arab and wider Muslim world. The main states in the Arab Middle East have not yet commented on Israel’s proposal.
For example, the UAE said it will be satisfied with a ceasefire in the conflict zone as long as the parties agree on mutually acceptable compromises. As a UAE official put it: “The UAE will support any future post-war arrangements agreed upon by all the concerned parties.” Nothing more specific than that. In other words, Abu Dhabi is trying to avoid having to shoulder any responsibility for the Palestinian question. But, if, the Israelis and Palestinians have been unable to reach any compromise in all the years that have elapsed since 1947, where is the guarantee that they will be able to do so now?
Israel seeks to advance its plan through dominance on the ground, that is, through force, by inflicting a devastating military defeat on Hamas and reducing the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip as much as possible. In doing so, they regularly propose that Turkey accept intransigent Palestinian refugees deported by Israel.
Turkey, on the other hand, is trying to insist on its own solution to the Palestinian issue, in the hope of boosting its own international prestige and influence in the Islamic world through diplomacy rather than through force. Turkey is not independent enough to commit itself to joining a military coalition against Israel (and thus against the US).
These are the realities of the crisis in the Middle East.
Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.